The Tequila Making Process

04. Milling the Agave

05

Milling Roasted Agave: Shredding & Extracting Juice from the Cooked Agave

The roasted agave hearts must be pressed in order to release the sugary liquid inside, making these sugars available for fermentation. There are four main ways to process roasted agave: hand crushing, tahona, roller mill, and diffuser.

Hand Crushing

This ancient method of shredding agave utilizes wooden bats and/​or machetes, and requires only human power. This traditional, labor-intensive process is still utilized for small producers of various types of mezcales throughout Mexico. As of this writing, we are only aware of one producer of tequila who is using this process.

Tahona

Dating back at least four hundred years, this method utilizes a volcanic stone wheel to crush the roasted agave. Today, tahonas may be powered by an engine, tractor, donkey, or horse. This process was largely phased out of the tequila industry in the latter half of the 20th century, though it appears to be undergoing a resurgence in popularity. Very few distilleries use this method. As of this writing we are aware of 7 producers, but Patrón is the largest tahona tequila producer in the world, with up to 10 tahonas working continuously. There are more tahonas working at Patrón than in the rest of the tequila industry combined.

  • Patrón
  • Suerte
  • Fortaleza
  • La Alteña (El Tesoro)
  • Olmeca (Olmeca Altos)
  • San Matias
  • El Pandillo (G4)
An illustration of a Tahona wheel with no machine

credit: Chloe Harrison-Ach

at patrón:two parallel processes.

At Patrón it takes about three hours to crush seven tons of agave with the tahona, and one hour to crush 14 tons of agave on the roller mill.

Each method produces a distinct tequila with its own flavor characteristics — the roller mill produces tequila with fruity citrus notes, and from the tahona we get earthy, vegetal tequila. Our house style blends the two tequilas and their distinct flavor profiles to create a balanced, complex end product in Patrón Silver.

Roller Mill

Popularized during the 1950s, in this process roasted agave is run through a series of five rollers to be broken down, after which the agave fibers are rinsed with water to release fermentable sugars, which are collected below the device and sent for fermentation. Consistent sugar concentration is maintained by adjusting the amount of water added throughout the process. This method, originally adapted from sugar cane producers, is now the most common milling method utilized by tequila distilleries.

credit: Chloe Harrison-Ach

Diffuser

The diffuser is an industrial technology that inverts the tequila-making process. Shredded agaves enter the diffuser in their raw, uncooked state, and sugars are extracted by spraying hot water under high pressure, sometimes with the assistance of sulfuric acid. The process is highly efficient, as it extracts up to 98 – 99% of the available sugars, though results in tequilas that lack the complexity of traditional production methods.